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Could a 'Third Place' In Your Office Make Your Employees More Productive?

Lynette Reed
Lynette Reed

More businesses are integrating third-space concepts in their workplace design.

The idea of the third place has emerged in recent years and is taking on a more prominent role in business. The third place is often described as a welcoming space where individuals cultivate social interactions with like-minded people. This term was first introduced by Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, in his book, "The Great Good Place."

People have home as the first place and work as the second place. The third place is a setting or environment without ties to personal responsibility. A recent article from design firm BCT identified changes that are occurring in the way we work and shop that have led to the emergence of third places. In today's world, telecommuting has become a trend that offers an alternative to working in a traditional office setting.

People are also buying more online, which shifts the focus away from retail and toward businesses such as coffee shops, wine bars and restaurants. These types of venues change the space where individuals go to interact with people both in person and online.

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, discussed in a YouTube video with Dr. Mukund Rajah recently that people are not as engaged as they once were, in part due to technical devices that promote the virtual third place. Schultz suggested that people are longing for connections, even when offered a virtual experience. Businesses such as Starbucks invite people to stay and connect in a physical place with others. 

The belief that the third place must be distinct from the office environment is also changing, especially with transformations occurring in the work environment. The last several years have marked a time when work has become significantly more intense. Businesses are more varied and challenging, and in some countries, workers are increasingly mobile. Gallup reported that adults employed full time are working an average of 47 hours per week. That number is 1.5 hours more than it was a decade ago. Almost four in 10 employees reported logging 50 or more hours per work.

In addition to longer work hours, the Staples 2016 Workplace Index highlights other factors, such as stress and feelings of being tied to a desk, that are driving the emergence of the third space. The index also reported that workers want to ditch dull office spaces in favor of healthy workspaces that provide more of a change of pace.

Companies are looking for different ways to balance work and life. Facebook and Microsoft, for example, offer areas where employees can go to eat, get a coffee or read. Other examples of third places are outlined in the article, Third Places as Community Builders. In this article, co-authors Stuart Butler and Carmen Diaz discuss pilot experiments taking place throughout the United States. One experiment is in the greater Washington, D.C., area where office workers reserve tables and chairs so they can visit in a shared space. Another experiment, Outbox, in Silver Spring, Maryland, features a covered workspace equipped with Wi-Fi and seating, which is available for people to use throughout the day. Other companies are offering employees memberships to places such as the Oxford Exchange, which provides a retail store, workspaces, food and drinks.

Millennials are not the only generation pushing for change. Going back to Staples' Workplace Index report, respondents (of various ages) said they would prefer it if businesses created workspaces that utilized more natural light, featured lounge areas and private spaces for employees, and used standing desks. Food was also listed high. Eighty-three percent of respondents reported that having a well-stocked break room could lead to happier employees. Eighty percent suggested that they feel more productive after a break.

This idea of third place is becoming a successful model for companies. This space allows employees an opportunity to relax and collaborate in an increasingly hectic workplace. As technology ties the three places of people's lives closer together, the third place adds balance to employees' lives and has the potential to create a corporate culture that improves employee engagement and productivity. The future holds new and innovative ways to balance all the places – home, work and the third space – that help keep your employees committed and connected to the company.

Image Credit: zhu difeng/Shutterstock
Lynette Reed
Lynette Reed Member
Writer, researcher, and facilitator with an emphasis on human potential for personal and organizational development. Dr. Reed has mentored people from a variety of organizations to include businesses, not for profit organizations, schools, allied health agencies, Chambers of Commerce, governmental entities, and churches. She has taught courses on world religion and world cultures and also continuing education courses approved by the American Planning Association for ethics, HRCI, and team building/leadership training sessions approved by the Texas Education Agency for continuing education of teachers, superintendents, and school board members. Her current literary contributions include an executive summary paperback titled, Fixing the Problem, Making changes in how you deal with challenges, as well as some book contributions, articles, and guest radio appearances, and a series of children's books with Abingdon Press. She is also a founder and board member of the Institute for Soul-Centered Leadership at Seton Cove. Her academic background includes a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality, Sustainability, and Inter-Religious Dialogue and a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders.